Thinking Digital 2012 my highlights

Another year and another Thinking Digital. This year the programme looked very strong, and thankfully I can say one of my highlights was from the BBC.

5 Years now and thinking digital is winning more even more new fans, Martin Bryant from the next web wrote his thoughts about the conference comparing it with TED. It seems crazy than over 5 years ago I heard Herb Kim talk about a TED like conference in the North East and I pulled him aside and said “are you for real?” So determined Herb was, I couldn’t help but offer support where ever possible. In actual case I’ve wrote about Thinking Digital every single year except 2010 when I had my bleed on the brain, and thanks to Herb I was there in spirit as such. Theres no doubt in my mind Thinking Digital is the english TED and it will go on to be something even better.

Magnus Lindkvist

On the first day, it was the thinking digital university and there was some great courses to be involved in. In the end I went with the one which best fits my work. A Practical Guide to Predicting the Future by Magnus Lindkvist.

At one time or another, if not everyday, we are all called upon to try and spot trends and/or predict the future. It’s pretty tough to do well. Magnus Lindkvist is considered to be one of the world’s foremost authorities on trendspotting and is the author of Everything You Know is Wrong, The Attack of the Unexpected and When the Future Begins. In addition he is a wonderful speaker and workshop facilitator. As one person commented, “Listening to Magnus Lindkvist is like rejuvenating your brain.”

In this session, Magnus will share some of his insights on the pitfalls and practice of trendspotting and trying to predict what will happen next. It will be a fascinating and fun workshop that could change the arc of your organisation and maybe even your life.

In the area of trendspotting, theres a lot of different approaches and some are as good as throwing a ball into a pit. But Magnus did a good job breaking the task down. His spectrum of predictability gave some scale to the levels of predications and with Tennis Balls, Fingerprints and the Human Brain in mind off he went.

Pearls of wisdom? Well there was a lot of common sense including news is blinding and slow moving things no one notices because the human brain is crap at recognizing tiny changes. The human mind is crap at thinking about cultural changes, example? Why does the Jetsons still have woman as the housewifes? The best people who predict the future are generally loud and good at convincing people even when wrong.

His talk was equally good and different examples helped… Lets just say I’m now a follower on twitter.

So what was my highlights?

Pam Warhurst

Pam Warhurst

Pam was like a lightening bolt, her no nonsense style and talk totally blew away the audience, she almost received a standing applause for everything she had done in Todmorden. Really got me thinking about the community I live in and should I be pushing much harder to achieve the community spirit she’s achieved. Incredible and also one of the great treasures Thinking Digital uncovers.

Peter Gregson

Peter Gregson

You got to hand it to Peter, lovely guy and after the failed attempt to demonstrate his computer assisted music sequencing system working on the first day, he came back on the 2nd day to a massive round of applause. Excellent music and great idea. Look forward to hearing and seeing more on the Space soon.

Mikko Hypponen

Mikko Hypponen

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mikko during the speakers and VIP dinner. It was great talking to him and I didn’t know he was going to take the more personal security and privacy approach. We had a good chat about world security and social engineering. Mikkos talk was really good and I felt like he had much more to say but there was plenty to make people think. It wasn’t as scary as Paul Rogers talk at TedXBradford who I recommended to Mikko at dinner but plenty to take away. Another great talk and great to see Thinking Digital trying different types of talks.

Ken Segall

Ken Segall

Didn’t really want to like Ken but I found his talk fascinating, maybe in the same way I would find Steve Jobs if I was to heard him live. Ken had some choice words including… Being simplicity isn’t simple, Why add complexity, think common sense. Simplicity isn’t a trend its forever, its burned into our wiring. However when Ken made the comment about Apple’s rivials creating 16+ types of machines to face up against Apple’s 4 types. I disagree with about choice being bad. The business models they are using is wrong in my view. Very good talk and great opener to the whole conference.

Adrian Hon

Adrian Hon

Adrian is a great guy and friend, always been loved what him and his brother have done from a early time. Great to hear what each of them are doing but Adrian really got me thinking about Kickstarter. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard so many stories about kickstarter but to hear about Zombies Run, well it got me really thinking about the possibility of using a store of ideas to see if any of them were worth pursuing or not. More details about that hopefully soon. But excellent talk and great to have Adrian’s deeper thoughs along side his current work. Credit to Adrian if things go the way of crowd funding.

Sugata Mitra

Sugata Mitra

I had no idea who he was till he started talking about his great hole in the wall project. Then I was transported back to 2000 in the doors of perception 6 conference in Amsterdam. I remember hearing about the project and thinking wow, how amazing one person can make such a difference. I was a budding interaction design student with no real idea of how much these things would shape my life in the future.

I remember there was some discourse about how much the children had learned years later but its great to hear Sugata is still trying out different methods to educate some of the poorest people in the world. Granny Cloud sounds crazy but who knows in 12 years time, I might be saying how much of a impact that had. Seriously Amazing talk… Ended the first and long day on a total high.

Ralph Rivera

Ralph Rivera

Now Ralph is my managers manager but since he joined the BBC replacing Erik Huggers I’ve had nothing but praise for him and his style of business. Seeing Ralph at Thinking Digital adlib with about 3 slides was captivating. He got the tone perfect and made it into one of the best talks of the second day. It was so good hearing what I thought of Ralph being said by others in the conference. There was even talk about Ralph for BBC Director General. I was so proud to be at the BBC after hearing ralph talk about his own background and why the BBC must pivot for the sake of the country and the industry.

Tom Scott

Tom Scott

You have got to hand it to Tom, he is one of the gems of Thinking Digital. He has spoken at every single one and each time his portfolio of work increases and gets better. To have Tom end the conference was a great honor and a great move by Herb bringing balance to Peter Fitzgerald‘s talk from Google. Don’t get me wrong Peter was good but even the Google in me was getting a little twitchy. Tom shattered the utopian dream but only by putting a few holes in the corners.

Great to see Tom has calmed down a little, he’s really carving out a niche besides the likes of ZeFrank. Great talk and great presentation, hopefully he won’t be too big for next years Thinking Digital…

Jennifer Gardy

Jennifer Gardy

Jennifer’s presentation was special for me because my ex (Sarah) was also into Epidemiology. Not only that Sarah was the person responsible for the TB register in London and we would regularly talk about how TB was a massive killer and unfortunately no was talking it very seriously. A lot of the terms and methods Jennifer described were strangely common to me and I can only guess it comes from Sarah.

Jennifer did also make reference to the fact that she started a A-Z book of diseases which Tom Scott and a few others put together in this great animation in a matter of days.

Sebastian Seung

Sebastian Seung

Every year theres one talk which gets me very excited about what were learning about ourselves. Last year it was eat to defeat, this year its the Connectome. Sebastian is uncovering how the brain is wired and with it how things like autism might be caused. The problem is the brain is just too dense and trying to track the connections is a very manual job. But if you can gamify and crowd source it, would it be a easier problem to crack? Well thats what is all about. Sebastian is after better ways to make the game more fun and more interesting. I might be able to help.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore

Between Alan and Magnus I was really getting the feeling my thoughts around disruption and future thinking are maybe much more relevant than I had imagined. Letting the legacy die was a theme through out…

Where Alan got me was the “putting economic value on every aspects of human existence is a very bad idea, deconstructing the human is not a good idea.” This ties nicely with my thoughts about online dating and trying to understand what is chemistry? I think this is also when I wrote in my evernote notes, that I’m going to put forward to Herb a epic look at online dating and love as a presentation for maybe next years Thinking Digital.

My manager Adrian, says its clearly not BBC when I talk about love/sex/dating but if you dig a little deeper. What I’m actually doing is trying to deconstruct these notions. Maybe I am deconstructing what it means to be human in a clumsy way when I do events like Relationships 2.0 (Thur 7th at FYG Deli). I know for a fact I’ve had arrangements with people about the events and my dating experiences and actually what there getting at is the deconstruction of human emotions?

Plenty to think about but Alan did leave these points to think about…

  1. Change the pattern, the limits of our language is the limits of our world
  2. Adaptive go beyond the conventional
  3. The default setting is open, the world is open.
  4. Participatory culture, not social media.
  5. Craftsmanship. Is what we do good for us all?
  6. Seek epic wins, transformational wins

Other notable speakers…Tom Chatfield, Zach LiebermanRosanne BachmanSimona Francese, Peter Fitzgerald and Jessica Latshaw for some great music (love her deep smoky voice!)

Gateshead by night

Like the Future Everything conference, there is so much more I could write about and I have a lot of notes to follow up in my evernotes. It was an amazing conference and I’d say out of the 5 maybe one of the best by a little bit. Everything just gelled from the section tagslines to the application Gospalware created for the conference. Having the sponsors down in the tea and coffee area instead of the barber room.

My only gripe is not having the Dinner next door to each other like usual and not being able to ask questions. I also wished I could have gone to some more of the university events but had to choose one over the others.

If this event doesn’t put Thinking Digital on the map for conference goers in the UK, I don’t know what will!?!?

Here’s to Herb, Codeworks, the sponsors and everyone I met during the week… To the next 5 years!

Official photos and my own creative commons licenced photos

Thinking Digital 2011: Touching the emotions

May is a strange time… It seems to be the start of a series of conferences in the North of England including Future Everything. In this case it was time to head up to Newcastle/Gateshead for the inspiring and always fantastic Thinking Digital conference.

Herb Kim

Like Future Everything, I missed last year due to the bleed on the brain. Herb Kim last year gave me a shout out, live on stage (of course I wasn’t there) but this year he did the same in between a couple of speakers. It was very touching and later on Adrian pointed out that there was something in the conference booklet too. So thank you again to Thinking Digital and Herb Kim.

Generally the conference was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, lots of people I kind of remember and lots of people who remember me from previous years. It was very noticeable to me, how badly I forgot peoples names but hey I have a great excuse… 🙂 It was also great seeing Marissa Mulvena, Kate Norman and Emilia Flockhart along side all the other lovely people.

The Workshop – The Practice of Happiness – Bobby Paterson


I attended and enjoyed the practice of happiness with Bobby. I didn’t quite know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. Bobby ran through a whole lot of inspirational books that he had read and would recommend.

Its fair to say it was a decent summary without touching any of the religious or overall self help stuff. Bobby quoted Jim Rohn saying Happiness is not a accident nor is it something you aspire to, its actually something you design or even architect. Quite fitting with the talk from Bill Thompson at Future Everything about designing your future.

Some interesting facts. We have roughly 60,000 thoughts a day and 95% of them are the same as yesterday and 80% of those are negative in nature.

Then following that Bobby directed the questioning to work. Does your companies attitudes and values align with your own personal values? Luckily I would say indeed it does. He then went on to talk about Tony Heish from Zappos as a great example of what can be done in work. Bobby also hit the point about being more transparent and what that could mean for happiness.

He then talked about the social network (aptly named he was setting up off the back of his research into happiness. There’s 7 happy habits as Bobby called them running through the network. Those habits are…

  • Wisdom
  • Gratitude
  • Getting Active
  • Journaling
  • Eating Healthy
  • Mantra
  • Meditation

To be honest and I did say this to Bobby, its a nice idea but I’m concerned about the social networking aspect of it. I think for it to be truly useful it needs to be more fluid than yet another social network. I understand there’s the ability to send stuff into other social networks but honestly its needs to be something more transparent. I was thinking about a microformat for wellbeing and good habits could be interesting. Of course Bobby could keep the social network too, but aggregate stuff outside of it.

Highly valued characters

End of the day, it was a good talk and I am intrigued specially with my own shift (still not sure how I feel about this movie) or lifestyle change.

And that was just the workshop…

The conference was even more fantastic. Like Future Everything I’ll just run through the highlights of the conference but I wanted to also wanted to discuss a few of the conference things. You can think of it as feedback to the Thinking Digital committee.

  • I loved the idea of having a smoke machine go off when the speaker went well over the time. It was used a bit at the start but I didn’t see it again. What happened there?
  • I really wanted to ask questions, but there was never a chance. According to Jas, something changed in 2010 and so there was no more questions. Anyway, no worries, I got to speak to everyone afterwards.
  • It wasn’t just me who had a quite sore behind from the seats in the conference venue. Could really have done with a pillow or something. Not a big problem because there were the right amount of breaks and even better they were just about the right length.
  • The meals were pretty good, very healthy but I wouldn’t have minded a little more variety. Good idea having bags which you can shift around with and having the sweets upstairs.
  • The Wifi was a problem but got better, I do wish there wasn’t the webpage authentication because its a real pain on a non-laptop device like my kindle.
  • Power wasn’t a problem for me because I was on the Kindle, but I heard a few people say they wished there was a secure place to charge laptops between sessions.
  • The dinners are still excellent in Thinking Digital. The combination of food and drink means everyone stays till the very end and goes no where. Don’t ever loose that part of thinking digital.

Right time for the best talks of the conference

Erin McKean from Wordnik

Erin McKean

Erin McKean likes to call herself a Dictionary Evangelist. She is the CEO of the new online dictionary Wordnik and prior to that she was the Editor in Chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary. She is the author of ‘Weird and Wonderful Words’, ‘More Weird and Wonderful Words’, ‘Totally Weird and Wonderful Words’, and ‘That’s Amore’ (also about words).

Erin from Wordnik gave a great presentation about building the largest Dictionary. The presentation was pretty straight forward but fascinating. The new developer API sounds like tons of fun.

Wordnik fits really well with my thoughts around the way language evolves at a fascinating pace. Hopefully we can help Wordnik in some way in the near future.

Conrad Wolfram, Wolfram Research

Conrad Wolfram

Conrad Wolfram is European founder and CEO of Wolfram Research and its worldwide strategic director. Since 1988, the Wolfram group has built the Mathematica computational software and since 2009, the spin-off Wolfram|Alpha knowledge engine.

Another great talk with some useful examples on Interestingly Wolfram have launched a computational document format (CDF)

CDF—the computable document format—is a way that we’ll be releasing soon of very easily creating dynamic, interactive, documents that immediately build on all the algorithms and automation that we’ve been setting up in Mathematica for the past 24 years.

I assumed it would be XML based but its unfortunately not. Anyhow, the reason seems to be sound due in part to the Mathematica engine being embedded in part in the document.

Sam Martin, Manspaces

Thinking Digital - Sam Martin

Author Sam Martin shares photos of a quirky world hobby that’s trending with the XY set: the “manspace.” (They’re custom-built hangouts where a man can claim a bit of his own territory to work, relax, be himself.) Grab a cold one and enjoy.

Just as Herb Kim said in his intro, you kind of don’t really want to like the talk but honestly it was an insight into how people get away and use there own spaces. Some would have liked to ask questions about the notion that its man spaces instead of just work spaces? Oh well I guess they could twitter him, if they were that upset. Good talk and plenty to think about

Nancy Duarte, Duarte Design

Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte is one of the world’s foremost authorities on presentation development and design. She is the founder of Duarte Design, who specialise in presentation mastery and visual communications. Duarte design is also one of Silicon Valley’s most successful and largest woman-owned businesses.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Nancy at the speakers Dinner before the conference and I was already a fan when we talked about Prezi (which Matthew Postgate used in his presentation and I’ve written about before) and she said it can be useful in a very small number of cases but generally it distracts from the core messages and the flow of the presentation. And after listening to her talk, shes totally right, can you ever imagine Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King, using Prezi? Not a chance in hell…

The analysis of the flow of the best presentations is killer information. Once you know and understand it, its really obvious but very powerful. Thank you Nancy… I’ll hopefully improve my presentations forever more.

Dr Vincent W. Li, Angiogenesis Foundation

Thinking Digital - Vincent Li

Li tackles a common denominator of disease called angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth. He created the Foundation in 1994 and currently oversees the Eat to Defeat initiative and ENABLE project, a global system that integrates patients, medical experts and healthcare professionals and democratises the spread and implementation of knowledge about angiogenesis-based medicines, diet and lifestyle.

Vincent gave an emotional but very smart talk about the research he and his brother have been working on. Angiogenesis is the process of growing new blood vessels from pre-existing blood vessels. This process is also how tumors go from dormant to a state of malignant. Some foods can give the effect of a Angiogenesis inhibitor or Anti-Angiogenesis.

Yes if you understood correctly (videos should helps), we might be able to prevent Cancer by eating more of certain types of food. Which types of food, I bet your wondering? Which ones? Well here’s the full list and I’ve picked out the surprising ones…

  • Dark Chocolate
  • Green Tea
  • Maple Syrup

But its not just cancer… Angiogenesis is a major factor in other medical conditions such as Obesity and Stress.

Its a lot to take in at first and to be fair I really need to do some more research into these claims but honestly if eating more fruit and vegetables helps to defeat cancer and other problems, then I’m there. I’ve already made huge changes in my lifestyle, if this works or even if it doesn’t I’ll certainly be stacking up my shopping trolley with more things from the list.

I did get a chance to talk to Vincent about the whole thing and he was very open to hearing the good and negative comments. The problem seems to be the lack of a clinical/scientific trial over a wide group of people. He said they have trials over 100,000 people but they were not clinical due to the nature of the subject. It was expressed that trying to do a mass clinical/scientific trial would never really be achievable because there’s far too many factors to consider.

Its important to remember this is all preventive not a cure.

Anyway… Something to check out for sure.

Mary Anne Hobbs, XFM

Thinking Digital - Mary Ann Hobbs

I have to admit I had not heard any of the back story of why she had left the BBC, and she wasn’t actually on the schedule but with all the craziness of the ash cloud and speakers stranded in different locations. Herb convinced her to stand in for someone else and tell her side of the story.

The interview was done by herb and felt like he had planned it from the very start. Very professional but with hints of friendliness. It was a excellent interview and one of those pinnacle moments in Thinking Digital which defines the 2011 conference…

The Others

Thinking Digital - Tom Scott

Its also worth mentioning Steven Bathiche, Walter de Brouwer, Paul Smith, Matthew Postgate, Carlos Ulloa, Casper Berry, Tan Lee, Gred Leonhard, Jer Thorp, Atau Tanaka, Heather Knight, Ewan McIntosh and finally Tom Scott. All added equally good talks and worth mentioning. Musical interludes by Badaia was certainly interesting but after the 3rd time got a little tiresome.

Would I say Thinking Digital 2011 was better that 2009? Well I would say they were about the same, both had tiny things you could groan about but on the whole they were amazing and a truly inspiring.

Excellent work again, Herb and the Thinking Digital team, can’t wait for 2012…